The federal motor carrier exemption applies to drivers, mechanics and other employees whose duties affect safety and who work in interstate commerce.  This exemption applies to truck companies and bus companies.  Any state is free to adopt this exemption, in toto, or to modify it or, in fact, not adopt it at all.

The New Jersey Department of Labor has adopted a version of the federal exemption that applies only to common carriers There is also an exemption, a separate exemption, that applies to bus companies and their employees.  That exemption has caused problems for the employer community so the state DOL is now proposing new rules to clarify when a bus company employer is not required to pay overtime to employees.

The new definition of “common carriers of passengers by motor bus” would now include “any employer which operates an autobus.”  This would establish bright lines so that employers (and DOL investigators/officials) would know exactly whether the employer has to pay overtime.

The DOL issued a communication stating that “the new rule would eliminate any possible confusion among employers and employees with regard to the proper scope of the exemption.”  To its credit, the agency observed that the absence of clear definition of the terms “common carrier” and “motor bus” has caused problems because employers have been unsure (for some time) where the line is drawn between employees who should receive overtime pay and those who should not.

Under the new rule, DOL investigators would need only to confirm whether the Motor Vehicle Commission has classified the vehicle as an “autobus.”  Secondly, the investigator would also need to confirm that the proper registration documents are on file.

The lesson for employers, within New Jersey and elsewhere, is to always be cognizant that state law, on exemptions and all other wage hour issues, must be examined, and complied with, in addition to compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.  It is not enough to “merely” comply with the federal statute.